The early days are unimaginable. Over time, as you make it through your day without tears or profound emptiness, it feels like you are losing your child all over again because you are not honoring them, feeling their profound presence and love.

The early days

Some liken this profound grief to a switch that is turned on and will never be turned off again. For many parents, it is necessary to find methods to control the “volume” of grief to cope daily. While it is loud and overwhelming in its early stages, over time the volume lowers, making life more manageable. Finding ways to manage your grief’s “volume” will become an important life skill because it will become loud again. While your grief will never be silent, and can easily increase again as you are confronted with painful reminders, finding healthy ways to cope with its volume will be important and will be required self-care for the rest of your life.

The early days will be an emotionally chaotic and unpredictable time. Setting a schedule helps others know when and how to support you. This may mean bringing an ice cream sandwich every Tuesday at 4 p.m., taking your other children to the park, or visiting on Thursdays for a cup of tea.

Determining which reminders can bring about deep pain is critically important because you can set safeguards or boundaries to prevent yourself from being re-traumatized. In daily conversation people will ask, “How many children do you have?” This is a key question that many parents describe as THE question.

Parents who outlive their adult children may have an even more difficult time coping and may experience more health problems related to their grief. Older parents may be left out of memorial and funeral planning – especially if their child was married or had children of their own – which can complicate their own hopes to honor the life of their child.

All the little things

Beyond the empty chairs, lonesome holidays or school events you no longer attend, reminders will be everywhere, especially in the beginning. It may be a faint smell in the halls of your office or the smell of gum; it may be a song on the radio or a stranger’s conversation you overhear; it may even come more abruptly as you watch fellow parents reprimand their children publicly, only wishing that they knew or understood how precious their child was. Living with all the little things can take an emotional toll on you, especially the unexpected reminders strike. But there will be many little things that you may see as a sign of love or a continued connection with your child. An understanding of what is helpful and caring should be integrated into your life, to the extent you can control it. For example, planting milkweeds to attract butterflies, feeding the birds or waking early each day to watch the sunrise are healthy ways to continue your connection.

The later stages

Soon your family will experience major holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries without your child. These holidays will be filled with memories that may be both painful and joyful. Planning how to honor and memorialize your child during these difficult days may deepen your heartache, but integrating your child’s legacy into your life will help support long-term coping.

As time goes by, fear may set in as intense pain begins to soften. You may feel that you are losing touch with your child. To honor your child’s life fully, you may want to continue such deep pain and sorrow. It is a testament to your love for them and their life. This conflict is confusing, worrisome and normal. Many parents manage to balance these feelings. Finding ways to honor your child and integrate his or her legacy in your daily life will help you restore your purpose and meaning in life.

Yet, it is common and expected to relapse and re-experience periods of deep grief and pain in the years to come. Some parents seek professional support or find solidarity in connecting with others.

You, your life and your grief evolve.


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